XIII. Capitulation

Late on the second day after the battle Asensio returned to his bohio. Rosa and Evangelina, already frantic at the delay, heard him crying to them while he was still hidden in the woods, and knew that the worst had happened. There was little need for him to tell his story, for he was weaponless, stained, and bloody. He had crossed the hills on foot after a miraculous escape from that ravine of death. Of his companions he knew nothing whatever; the mention of Esteban's name caused him to beat his breast and cry aloud. He was weak and feverish, and his incoherent story of the midnight encounter was so highly colored that Rosa nearly swooned with horror.

The girl stood swaying while he told how the night had betrayed them, how he had wrought incredible feats of valor before the shifting tide of battle had spewed him out the end of the sunken road and left him half dead in the grass. Asensio had lain there until, finding himself growing stronger, he had burrowed into a tangle of vines at the foot of a wall, where he had remained until the fighting ceased. When the Spaniards had finally discovered their mistake and had ceased riding one another down, when lights came and he heard Colonel Cobo cursing them like one insane, he had wriggled away, crossed the calzada, and hidden in the woods until dawn. He had been walking ever since; he had come home to die.

Rosa heard only parts of the story, for her mind was numbed, her heart frozen. Her emotion was too deep for tears, it paralyzed her for the time being; she merely stood staring, her dark eyes glazed, her ashen lips apart. Finally something snapped, and she knew nothing more until hours afterward, when she found herself upon her comfortless bed with Evangelina bending over her. All night she had lain inert, in a merciful stupor; it was not until the next morning that she gradually came out of her coma.

Then it was that the negress was really alarmed, fearing that if the girl did rally her mind would be affected. But Rosa was young and, despite her fragility of form, she was strong--too strong, it seemed to her, and possessed of too deep a capacity for suffering. How she ever survived those next few days, days when she prayed hourly to die, was a mystery. And when she found that she could at last shed tears, what agony! The bond between her and Esteban had been stronger than usually exists between sister and brother; he had been her other self; in him she had centered her love, her pride, her ambition. The two had never quarreled; no angry word had ever passed between them: their mutual understanding, moreover, had been almost more than human, and where the one was concerned the other had been utterly unselfish. To lose Esteban, therefore, split the girl's soul and heart asunder; she felt that she could not stand without him. Born into the world at the same hour, welded into unity by their mother's supreme pain, the boy and girl were of the same flesh and spirit; they were animated by the same life-current. Never had the one been ill but that the other had suffered corresponding symptoms; never had the one been sad or gay but that the other had felt a like reaction. Personalities so closely knit together are not uncommon, and to sever them is often dangerous.

Into Rosa's life, however, there had come one interest which she could not share with her twin--that was her love for O'Reilly. Spanish-reared women, as a rule, do not play with love; when it comes they welcome it, even though it be that first infatuation so often scorned by older, colder people. So it was with Rosa Varona. Whatever might have been the true nature of her first feeling for the Irish-American, suffering and meditation had deepened and strengthened it into a mature and genuine passion. As the wise men of old found wisdom in cave or desert, so Rosa in her solitude had learned the truth about herself. Now, in the hour of her extremity, thoughts of O'Reilly acted as a potent medicine. Her hungry yearning for him and her faith in his coming stimulated her desire to live, and so aided her recovery.

The day arrived when her brain was normal and when she could creep about the hut. But she was only the ghost of the girl she had been; she seldom spoke, and she never smiled. She sat for hours staring out into the sunshine, and when she found tears upon her cheeks she was surprised, for it seemed to her that she must long ago have shed the very last.

Asensio, likewise recovered, but he, too, was sadly changed. There was no longer any martial spirit in him; he feared the Spaniards, and tales of their atrocities cowed him.

Then Cobo came into the Yumuri. The valley, already well-nigh deserted, was filled to the brim with smoke from burning fields and houses, and through it the sun showed like a copper shield. Refugees passed the bohio, bound farther into the hills, and Asensio told the two women that he and they must also go. So the three gathered up what few things they could carry on their backs and fled.

They did not stop until they had gained the fastnesses of the Pan de Matanzas. Here they built a shelter and again took up the problem of living, which was now more difficult than ever.

Asensio would not have been greatly inconvenienced by the change had he been alone, for certain fruits grew wild in the forests, and the earth, where the Spaniards had not trod, was full of roots upon which a creature of his primitive habits could have managed to live. But hampered as he was by two women, one of whom was as delicate as a flower, Asensio found his task extremely difficult. And it grew daily more difficult; for there were other people here in the woods, and, moreover, the country round about was being steadily scoured by the enemy, who had orders to destroy every living, growing thing that was capable of sustaining human life. Stock was butchered and left to rot, trees were cut down, root- fields burned. Weyler's policy of frightfulness was in full sway, and starvation was driving its reluctant victims into his net. Meanwhile roving bands of guerrillas searched out and killed the stronger and the more tenacious families.

The Pan de Matanzas, so called because of its resemblance to a mighty loaf of bread, became a mockery to the hungry people cowering in its shelter. Bread! Rosa Varona could not remember when she had last tasted such a luxury. Raw cane, cocoanuts, the tasteless fruita bomba, roots, the pith from palm tops, these were her articles of diet, and she did not thrive upon them. She was always more or less hungry. She was ragged, too, and she shivered miserably through the long, chill nights. Rosa could measure the change in her appearance only by studying her reflection from the surface of the spring where she drew water, but she could see that she had become very thin, and she judged that the color had entirely gone from her cheeks. It saddened her, for O'Reilly's sake.

Time came when Asensio spoke of giving up the struggle and going in. They were gradually starving, he said, and Rosa was ill; the risk of discovery was ever present. It was better to go while they had the strength than slowly but surely to perish here. He had heard that there were twenty thousand reconcentrados in Matanzas; in such a crowd they could easily manage to hide themselves; they would at least be fed along with the others.

No one had told Asensio that the Government was leaving its prisoners to shift for themselves, supplying them with not a pound of food nor a square inch of shelter.

Evangelina at first demurred to this idea, declaring that Rosa would never be allowed to reach the city, since the roads were patrolled by lawless bands of troops. Nevertheless her husband continued to argue. Rosa herself took no part in the discussion, for it did not greatly matter to her whether she stayed or went.

Misery bred desperation at last; Evangelina's courage failed her, and she allowed herself to be won over. She began her preparations by disguising Rosa. Gathering herbs and berries, she made a stain with which she colored the girl's face and body, then she sewed a bundle of leaves into the back of Rosa's waist so that when the latter stooped her shoulders and walked with a stick her appearance of deformity was complete.

On the night before their departure Rosa Varona prayed long and earnestly, asking little for herself, but much for the two black people who had suffered so much for her. She prayed also that O'Reilly would come before it was too late.